In the Midst of a Pandemic, Breweries Are Giving Back to their Communities
Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, the food and beverage industry has been hit particularly hard. But that hasn’t stopped breweries across the country from finding ways to give back to their local communities. And by giving back to charities, breweries aren’t just helping others — they are gaining loyal customers and helping themselves stay in business too.
Heroes Brewing Company, Rochester, New York
When you walk into Heroes Brewing, you’ll notice a large white board on the wall, listing all of their beers and the names of local charities. Why? Because the sale of each different 4-pack contributes $1 to a different local charity. The white board tracks purchases of beer to go and shows how much each organization is getting that month, allowing customers to see the direct impact of their purchases in their neighborhood.
The owners, Greg and Marlene Fagan, just opened the brewery in December 2020, nearly a year into the pandemic. Restaurants and breweries across the country were struggling to stay open. But the Fagans saw an opportunity to change that narrative – and to give back to their local community at the same time.
Greg had spent several years homebrewing and brewery hopping before opening Heroes. “I loved the people that I met and knew that I wanted to be part of this community in a substantial way.” And become a part of the community he did.
Having partnered with nearly two dozen local charities, the brewery’s impacts are already being noticed. The local organizations are involved in every step of the process, from choosing the style of beer to use to providing input on the name and label design.
Raising Money for Gigi’s Playhouse
One of the many charities benefitting from Heroes’ donations is Gigi’s Playhouse, a center providing free programs to community members with Down Syndrome. The treasurer, Chris Tumminelli, says people were excited to hear about Heroes and what they planned to do for the Rochester community. “I felt this was a long time coming for nonprofits. Heroes is filling a need for those in need.” In just the first month of their partnership, Gigi’s received over $100 to help fund virtual programs!
Attic Brewing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“Go deep in your own backyard.” That’s the quote that stuck with Laura and Todd Lacy when they were gearing up to open Attic Brewing Company in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The couple quickly determined that their community would be at the heart of the brewery’s operations, and they started establishing relationships around town.
Attic Brewing opened in January 2020 and started their charitable work immediately. When they saw the devastation from the bushfires in Australia, they went to work on their first “Give Back” beer to raise money for Zoos Australia. This set the tone for how they would operate as a business in their community. Three more “Give Back” beers followed throughout the course of the year, but this time with a local focus.
In March 2020, Attic raised $1,200 for their local Pink Boots Society chapter, with $1 from each pint of “You Can’t Tame Wild Woman” being donated. 100% of the proceeds from their “Breath of Change” beer went to support local nonprofits in the black community. They ended the year with the collaborative “Black is Beautiful” stout, which became their best seller.
Taking Care of Attic Brewing Staff Along with the Community
When the taproom was forced to close due to the pandemic, Kidz Meals on Wheels used the space to store and prepare lunches for students doing virtual learning. The staff members have helped with neighborhood clean-ups and hosted outdoor markets for local small businesses. But it’s not just the local community that Attic Brewing supports. The Lacys ensure that their staff is taken care of as well. By hiring diverse employees, paying them fair wages, and providing good benefits, they help foster a resilient, supportive community.
Having just opened a little over a year ago, Attic Brewing finds that the charitable beers help to build their reputation in town. Laura Lacy adds that “It makes us feel good, but expands our consumer base as well.” Each charity they partner with also promotes the brewery and the “Give Back” beers. New customers are drawn into the taproom because they know that by drinking Attic’s beer, they are helping give back to their community too.
Mitten Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Raising money for local charities was a priority for Mitten Brewing Company from day one. Since opening in 2012, the brewery has raised over $350,000 for more than 50 local nonprofits. And the pandemic hasn’t changed their success. Chris Andrus, co-owner of Mitten Brewing, said, “60% of customers we surveyed said the reason they went out of their way to give us their business during the pandemic was the community work we do. I believe it’s the reason we survived.”
Giving back is so crucial to the core of Mitten Brewing that they created a charitable branch of the company in 2017. The Mitten Foundation chooses organizations that are local and small enough where their donations will make a measurable difference. The money raised through the brewery reaches every corner of the community. Medical care for injured pets, sports equipment for inner city youth, and shelter for domestic abuse and fire victims are just some of the benefits the foundation has seen.
Breweries in Maine Pay It Forward
At the heart of Maine Beer Company is their mission to “do what’s right.” That’s why they are a member of 1% for the Planet, a Vermont-based nonprofit, and have been since 2009. The organization is comprised of businesses who’ve committed to donating 1% of their annual sales to environmental nonprofits. Through their participation, they’ve helped raise money for organizations including Maine Audubon, The Center for Wildlife, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and several others. Their famous Lunch IPA is actually named after a finback whale that was tracked by Allied Whale, another organization they’ve supported.
Up in Lewiston, Maine, Baxter Brewing Company has a Passion Project series, donating proceeds to charities including Man Up to Cancer, the Pink Boots Society, and Friends of Acadia. Their Popham Beach beer was released last summer as the first in a series dedicated to the preservation of Maine’s state parks.
Through the creation process of each beer, the charity partners can have as much input as they want. Tony Grassi, Baxter’s Communication Manager, shared, “We want to ensure that the beer reflects something the organization feels strongly about, whether it’s style, design, name…” He adds that the beer quality does not suffer when creating their Passion Project beers. “It’s not enough to create a sub-par beer and say it’s for charity. You still need to pour your heart and soul into making it.” While their intention with these beers is simply to support the charities, they do find that it also helps them attract customers familiar with the organizations.
Beer Lovers Love to Give Back
The charitable projects from breweries across the country are not only attracting more customers, they are making their customers feel good about drinking beer. And they aren’t feeling guilty about opening their pockets.
According to Chris Andrus, co-owner of Mitten Brewing, “Craft beer has the best and most generous customers in the world.” Mitten boasts that their customers love to support the brewery, knowing that their money is being paid forward in the community.
The same story is being told out west. During the monthly charity night at Holidaily Brewing in Colorado, the customers “usually stock up on beer, knowing that 10% of their purchase goes to the charity.” Kaitlyn Gipple, Beer Marketing Guru at Holidaily Brewing said, “Someone who might come in for a pint leaves with a 3-pack of crowlers too.”
What Actually Happens with the Donations?
Companies are always eager to share how much money they’ve raised and donated, but what are they actually doing with the money?
Mitten Brewing is helping to fund new additions to Richmond Park to make it fully ADA accessible for nearly 9,000 children with disabilities in their community. The sale of their “Teddy Rasberry” wheat ale is specifically raising funds to restore Historic Hamtramck Stadium, one of only five remaining Negro League baseball stadiums.
Down in Charleston, South Carolina, Palmetto Brewing Company is providing life-saving surgeries for animals in critical care. After partnering with the Charleston Animal Society during a naming contest last fall, they raised over $70,000 for the shelter. In addition, $1 from each pint of “Rescue Brew” sold is going directly back to the shelter.
Through the “Raise a Pint, Lend a Hand” program at Holidaily Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado, the fire department was able to purchase additional equipment not covered in the city’s budget. The brewery hosts the event on the last Thursday of each month, each time benefitting a different local organization.
Brewery Partners Get Creative for Charity
Charitable efforts are not just happening in taprooms. With the rapid rise of virtual events, breweries are hopping on board and utilizing video conferencing to host virtual beer tastings and brewery tours.
One such event is the Drink Like a Girl Curtain Up Event.
The idea of the Curtain Up beer was created by The Happy Hour Guys, Mike and Jimmy. The pair had previously been working on the Broadway Brews Project, organizing collaborations between breweries and Broadway cast members to raise money for different charities. But when the pandemic hit, the project pivoted to the Curtain Up initiative to raise money for The Actors’ Fund and local arts organizations to help support artists who have lost their jobs.
Nearly 60 breweries nationwide are currently participating in the cause. Gun Hill Brewing Company in the Bronx created the base recipe: a New England IPA made with citra, centennial, azacca, and amarillo hops. Each brewery participating can put their own spin on the recipe and choose when to brew it throughout the year. They also each decide which local organization(s) to support along with the Actors Fund, as well as how much of the proceeds to donate.
Drink Like a Girl Partners with Curtain Up
In New York State, Curtain Up is going virtual. Following a recent collaboration, Gun Hill asked Kelly Guilfoyle, the founder of Drink Like a Girl, to participate in the Curtain Up initiative. Using her connections in the industry, Kelly has organized the Drink Like a Girl x Curtain Up virtual event happening on March 27th.
Beer lovers who sign up for the event will be sent 15 different varieties of the Curtain Up beer from 15 breweries across New York State. The virtual event will include live performances by musicians, interviews with the participating brewers, and other festivities. Event attendees can also choose to make additional donations to The Actors Guild when purchasing their tickets.
Raise a Glass to Support Your Local Charities
These breweries are just a few of hundreds that are doing amazing things across the country. Because of the costs incurred through distribution, most charitable beers are only available onsite in the taprooms, allowing the breweries to donate the most money possible to their local organizations.
Don’t worry if you don’t live nearby any of the places mentioned here. Just check out your local breweries to see what charitable efforts they are doing. Perhaps you can even encourage them to contribute if they aren’t already.